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New coalition calls for statewide board to control prescription drug costs

Controlling drug prices has been a priority for Virginia lawmakers amid nationwide reports of...
Controlling drug prices has been a priority for Virginia lawmakers amid nationwide reports of patients rationing their drugs — or foregoing essential medications — due to largely unjustified price increases.(WHSV)
Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 7:06 AM EDT
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A new coalition is calling on Virginia legislators to create an oversight board aimed at lowering the cost of pharmaceuticals across the commonwealth.

“We have formed because the problem is clear and it is grave,” said Addison Hunter, a spokesperson for Freedom Virginia, one of several advocacy groups — including Doctors for America and Virginia State Conference of the NAACP — to join the new Virginians for Affordable Medicine Coalition. Like many states, Virginia has struggled to curtail the rising costs of prescription medications, which often disproportionately affect older residents and those with chronic conditions.

The coalition is urging candidates running in statewide elections this fall to generally prioritize lowering drug costs. But a more specific policy goal is for lawmakers to establish the “Prescription Drug Affordability Board,” which would be tasked with controlling the price of medications.

A handful of states, including Maryland, have already passed similar laws. The general theory is for states to regulate pharmaceuticals like a public utility, creating boards to monitor the prices of prescriptions. The boards can be structured in different ways and set their sights on different kinds of drugs, according to a report from the National Academy for State Health Policy, which first proposed the concept in 2016.

Hunter said the coalition is calling for the state to focus on medications with a wholesale cost increase of $3,000 or more over a single year. Sudden price increases would trigger a review by the board, which could set a maximum limit on what manufacturers were allowed to charge patients for the drugs.

“It would not set the prices, it would set a ceiling for what consumers would pay,” Hunter said. “There are a small number of very expensive medications that are creating very real burdens for consumers.”

Controlling drug prices has been a priority for Virginia lawmakers amid nationwide reports of patients rationing their drugs — or foregoing essential medications — due to largely unjustified price increases. During a Tuesday morning news conference, Northern Virginia resident Kat Schroeder, who’s lived with Type 1 diabetes since she was nine years old, said a gap in insurance coverage once made it extremely difficult to afford insulin. With prices that have risen to $300 or more for a single vial, she depended on a friend, who worked as a hospital nurse, to pass on opened bottles that patients didn’t take home with them.

“That’s what kept me alive for the year I was experiencing that gap,” she said. “Even with the help from my friend, I was rationing my doses because I never knew when that next vial would come.”

Regulating the hugely complicated pharmaceutical industry can be challenging, though, especially given the limits of state authority. Virginia lawmakers did pass a law in 2020 that capped the price of insulin at $50 a month. But it only applies to the roughly 24 percent of insurance plans operated and regulated in Virginia. It’s not clear if the state has any authority to bring down prices for the vast majority of plans regulated by the federal government.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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